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“Go live and go live often”: Livestream pioneer chats ‘hybrid’ touring

Artist and content creator Emma McGann, who built her fanbase on the strength of livestreamed shows, explains the thinking behind her innovative Virtual Tour Pass

By IQ on 06 Apr 2020

Emma McGann's shows on YouNow have been viewed 11.5m times

Emma McGann's shows on YouNow have been viewed 11.5m times

In early March, British pop singer, songwriter and online content creator Emma McGann announced her Duality tour – featuring a first-of-its-kind ‘hybrid’ touring format that combines traditional, in-person shows with a virtual option: a £20 ‘Virtual Tour Pass’ offering 360° front-row views for fans unable to attend in person.

Within hours of announcing, the physical component of the Duality tour – which visits theatres across North America – was off, a casualty of the coronavirus. The virtual part will, however, go ahead – and sales of the Virtual Tour Pass have already recovered losses from the cancellation of the physical trek, according to McGann.

Fans who buy a virtual pass also receive, among other perks, their name written on McGann’s guitar case, a handwritten postcard from the road, and a charitable donation, in the form of one tree planted with every purchase.

At the time of writing, McGann has already racked up more than 11.5 million views from streaming her shows live on YouNow, which she has been doing for the past six years. With the corona-hit live industry looking towards virtual shows to fill an increasingly empty looking spring calendar, IQ caught up with McGann to discover the secrets to her success…


IQ: How did you first get into livestreaming shows, and how do you look back on those early experiences?
EM: I began livestreaming almost six years ago. I’d been independently touring around the UK taking on any gig I could, sleeping in the back of the van, using everything I had to make it happen. One evening, I hosted my first post-show livestream from the back of the tour van. In that one-hour broadcast, I reached more eyeballs than one whole week of touring, saw more hits on the website, and sold more merch than I had with me on the tour itself. And there were no overheads. No venue fees, no petrol costs, no unpaid shows… Just a simple camera set-up, me and my guitar, and I was getting myself out there and earning as an artist.

It was clear to me in that first broadcast that there was something to it, so I decided to build livestreaming into my strategy from then on. Looking back on those early experiences, I’d started adapting the same mentality of taking on any gig I could, but just in a virtual sense. My theory was that, if I wasn’t live, then I could be missing out. So I began a regular broadcasting schedule – even factoring in hitting different timezones at peak times.

It was pretty intense at first, but it helped me reach more people than I ever would just touring in an old van around one country. It meant I could comfortably do things on my own terms, too.

“Community is still the thing I love most about livestreaming. It connects you to one another”

Beyond the numbers, what else about livestreaming appealed to you as an artist?
The biggest appeal for me was interacting directly with those watching. To this day, community is still the thing I love most about livestreaming. It connects you to one another. I think viewers really value living in a real-time moment with you. As the artist, I loved the fact that I had complete creative control over the virtual show itself, too.

Six years ago, we just weren’t seeing any artists push out regular high-quality audio or video for music performances via livestreaming at all. So, we decided to do it ourselves with the rig we’d usually take out to gigs. It was a weekly full-band performance in a dedicated studio space that made my broadcasts really stand out against other standard webcam set-ups. Having that creative free rein and connection to the audience was what appealed to me the most.

From the point of view of an early adopter, how has the ‘virtual concert’ scene come along in the six years since?
Back then, I made up my own rules as I went along, for sure. I quickly discovered that I didn’t need to confine my broadcasts to one standalone set-up. I started getting creative with it pretty early: livestreaming BTS [behind-the-scenes] music-video shoots, hosting music game shows, a multi-cam radio show and the full band performances I already mentioned. Whatever the content, I definitely went through some trial and error to try and get things perfect – figuring out what worked for the audience and what worked for me as the person in front of the camera.

It was a really fun process, and it’s crazy to think we were doing all of that six years ago when livestreaming wasn’t even a blip on the radar for most people. It feels special to have been experimenting with it that early on.

“It’s actually really cool to see the world dipping their toes into a medium I’ve been using for so long”

What do you make of the rush towards livestreaming concerts amid the current pandemic?
The sudden rush is no surprise to me at all. It’s been a saving grace for a lot of artists. Like many out there, I had to postpone a tour. It would’ve been the biggest of my career to date: a 21-date tour in the US, scheduled originally for April. On the night we made the decision to postpone, that’s when I began to understand how much livestreaming would be a saviour for people, and how lucky I was to already be doing it.

Livestreaming is the perfect medium for people to stay connected right now. Particularly for artists to stay connected with their audience. It’s the most human way we can express ourselves in a one-to-many fashion. And it’s the closest thing we have to emulating a real-life concert, at this point.

It’s actually really cool to see the world dipping their toes into a medium I’ve been using for so long. I think we’ll see many artists recognise the benefits and hopefully see them integrate it into their existing strategies in some way in the years ahead. I’ve taken this time over the last couple of weeks to help and mentor artists on how they can set up their own livestreams in the wake of Covid-19.

When the coronavirus hit, it must have been obvious for you to go the livestreaming route…
The livestreaming route was already a part of my plans this year of course – but in a bigger way than my usual streams. Early last year, I began building a touring format that could benefit the online ‘influencer’, whether it be a YouTuber who’s also an artist or an Instagram star wanting to head out on their first tour.

“Virtual tickets sold have made up for the cost loss due to having to reschedule because of Covid-19”

The 21 dates I’d had scheduled for this year was for my Duality tour – an in-person tour with simultaneous virtual concerts that viewers could still enjoy if they were on the other side of the world. My thought process started with those viewers who might not be in the country where a tour is happening, or maybe they just can’t afford to come out. There will always be that viewer wishing they could’ve been there. But it’s not financially viable for an independent artist to tour every country that every fan of theirs resides in.

As an artist who grows their audience online and not via traditional routes and touring, I realised early on that even though you can grow big numbers online, those fans are spread all around the world. It leaves you with hotspots dotted sporadically around the world, making it almost financially impossible to tour.

Artists finding success on music streaming platforms through playlist placements are met with the same problem and see their audience grow in the same sporadic manner – it’s not like touring, where you can choose where to grow your audience. The evolution of music streaming means algorithmically curated playlists choose your audience. Most playlists are not human-curated, due to the sheer amount of songs being uploaded daily. This diversifies artists’ listenership globally.

So, I created the Virtual Tour Pass – an online ticket that would give viewers access to shows if they couldn’t make it in person to a tour. As the Duality tour would’ve been my first run in the United States, I planned to use the Virtual Ticket option to make the tour both more accessible and more financially viable as a first-time touring artist. Having these hybrid in-person/virtual concerts as a part of my touring strategy from the get-go has meant that I was set up and ready for the virtual concerts.

“Interaction and community is the most important part of your livestreams”

So, luckily, it’s fair to say that we were prepared once the outbreak hit.

How did your fans react to the tour cancellation?
I was actually livestreaming when Trump made the announcement weeks ago that travel would be restricted between the US and Europe. Fans pointed it out to me mid-song, and understandably had questions straight away about how this would impact the tour. I had to be straight up with them, there and then. Even though the UK wasn’t mentioned in that announcement, I had a fairly solid feeling it would progress and apply to us in the UK, too.

Their initial reaction was just like mine, really: We were devastated. But my viewers have been so supportive over the last month. Those who have picked up a Virtual Tour Pass have even enabled me to reschedule the tour for a later date. Virtual tickets sold have made up for the cost loss due to having to reschedule because of Covid-19.

What advice would you give to other people who are trying out virtual shows, and trying to monetise them, for the first time now?
Interaction and community is the most important part of your livestreams. Monetising that content will be difficult if you’re not consistent. Most livestreaming platforms have a criteria you have to hit before your channel is eligible to be monetised – but the community you build should be your first concern over the monetisation aspect.

“Having virtual tickets available almost extends the capacity of the venue you’re playing in to an unlimited number”

Calls to action during your streams can help to push traffic to your music, your merch store, or wherever your viewers can support you if you’re not already partnered or affiliated on whatever platform you’re using.

Don’t be afraid of trial and error, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. You will definitely make a mistake. That’s just the nature of being live. Research the best set-up for you. Use any existing equipment you already have. And most importantly: go live and go live often.

So, are hybrid tours the future of concert touring?
I think my hybrid tour format could definitely aid artists in the future, for sure, if it’s done in the correct way. For smaller, first-time touring artists, it could make touring more financially viable. For larger artists, having virtual tickets available almost extends the capacity of the venue they’re playing in to an unlimited number.

Nothing beats a live show in person and nothing will ever deter us from going out to experience live music – but something like my Virtual Tour Pass gives fans on a global scale the opportunity to be there in the moment, too. No FOMO for any fan, anywhere.


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